Saturday, November 5, 2011

Royale with Cheese

So, if you’ve ever watched the movie Pulp Fiction, you’re familiar with the famous “Royale with Cheese” scene. And if you haven’t… then you should really go watch it. Great movie! But here’s a little recap for you. (Caution: Strong language. Not recommended for young'ns or work environments.)

Vincent (John Travolta) and Jules (Samuel L. Jackson) are riding around in a car, chatting. Vincent has recently made a trip overseas, visiting such European cities as Amsterdam and Paris, and is telling Jules about the little differences between the U.S. and Europe.

Vincent: “….and in Paris, you can buy a beer in McDonalds. You know what they can a.. uh.. a Quarter Pounder with cheese in Paris?”

Jules: “They don’t call it a Quarter Pounder with cheese?”

Vincent: “No man, they got the metric system. They don’t know what the [bleep] a Quarter Pounder is.”

Jules: “Then what do they call it?”

Vincent: “They call it a Royale with Cheese…”

I have always wondered if this is, in fact, true.

Tory and I have seen the American fast food joints over here – namely McDonalds and KFC – but have chosen to avoid it and sample the more authentic local flavor. However, we recently took a trip to Paris for our anniversary and happened upon a McDonald’s one evening. 

Can it really be that different? We wondered.

We decided to find out.

Upon entering, we encountered our first major difference:

Person-less ordering.

The menu was divided by the size of your appetite, side items, meals, cold drinks and hot drinks (which appear to be considered a “treat” in Europe). While we weren’t quite in the mood for one (especially one that comes from McDonald’s), we did discover: yes, you can get a beer at McDonald’s in Paris!

It isn’t too surprising as alcoholic beverages are not as taboo in Europe as they are in the States. Perhaps those that settled this country in search of religious freedom were also seeking freedom from alcohol? Probably not… but the small, yet very distinct, differences you encounter here are incredible!

The next item to search for was the infamous “Royale with Cheese” – brother to the Quarter Pounder. We searched the menu, messed up our order a few times, then searched again. Alas, we never found it. The closest thing we found was this:

A double cheeseburger.

Amazingly, I tasted almost no difference between the American double cheeseburger and the Parisian double cheeseburger. Just because it was "French", it wasn't any better in quality. I guess wherever you go - McDonald's is McDonald's.

We did find another small difference, though. In the States, we only serve ketchup – maybe some mustard – with our fries. In Paris, however, they serve “Pommes Frites Sauce” [French Fry Sauce] with fries, as well.

Pommes Frites Sauce is pretty much European mayonnaise. We’ve discovered that what they call mayo over here is not the thick, goopy spread we would think of back home. This has a little more spice and tang to it and is more sauce-like than mayonnaise.

All that aside…

The search for the great Royale with Cheese continues.

[And for those of you wondering, a more thorough update of our Paris venture will be provided soon – complete with pictures. Promise.]

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Caution: Watch for Falling Acorns

It came with the sound of falling acorns. The day before had been clear, warm and sunny, almost as if to mock my stuffed sinuses and upset stomach. By mid-afternoon, though, dark clouds had begun to creep in and rain was soon to follow.

We used to wake to glaring sunlight peeping through gaps in the curtains, burying our faces in the blankets as a poor attempt to get one more hour of sleep. This morning, however, it was dark. It wasn’t the typical cool morning air that wafted through the open window, either. It had grown cold. And it was quiet, except for the gentle rustle of dried leaves in the wind. I didn’t hear it let go. There was no whistle in the wind as it plummeted through the crisp morning air; but just as I opened my eyes, I heard it: pang!

A dangerous little acorn had fallen from the tree outside, striking the roof of an unsuspecting car beneath.

I was glad it was not someone’s head.

Fall had arrived.

The past six months had raced by with blazing speed! We attended our first German fest, finally had our formal wedding ceremony, rang in summer with another fest, made some new friends, had our first house guests, and welcomed another new season with yet another fest. …and I failed to blog about ANY of it! I fail. Let me catch you up:

  • Germans like to pair beer with anything. Children? Rollercoasters? Historic tours? Bungee jumping? All of these are better with beer.
  • Fests are like state fairs, only better. Why? More beer! The Fruhlingsfest (Spring fest) and Volksfest have rides, but better rides than you’d see at a state fair. I’m talking log rides, full-size rollercoasters, and the scrambler.
  • Eating in Germany is always delicious. While the fests are like state fairs, you don’t get ‘Deep Fried Kool-Aid’ or ‘Fried Cheese on a Stick’ stands. You get ½ meter bratwursts, fresh fruit, candied nuts, mushrooms in sauce, etc. Eat your heart out, America! (but go for a run or something, afterward)
  • Are you getting married? Don’t be fooled! Your wedding day will definitely be the happiest day ever… but it’s probably going to be one of the most stressful days ever, too! Just relax and remember… if the cake isn’t the flavor you asked for, it’s not the end of the world. (That’s when you lose one of the really rare pearls your husband got you for your birthday during his R&R! But even that you will survive. ;) )
  • Marriage isn’t easy. It will teach you things that you didn’t even know you didn’t know! Like the definition of “compromise” and “unconditional”, or that there is actually more than one way to fold something or load a dishwasher. Just remember to laugh – at yourself – every once in a while and you’ll be fine. : )
  • Summer is hot. You just don’t realize how hot until you don’t have air conditioning… and neither does the gas station… nor the post office… so you find yourself going to the grocery just to “browse” the frozen food section for a few hours.
  • When attending a wine fest or a beer fest… leave at least a few hours before the last train. Or wear a poncho, a gas mask, and rubber shoes. It’s your call!
  •  Having house guests is a blast! We look forward to our next visitors. *Coughcoughwinteristhecheapseasoncough*

Ta-da! That was our spring, summer, and intro to fall.

Now, watch for falling acorns!

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Our First Biergarten

Nice weather in Germany is rare. ...or so people tell us. They say it's usually too cold or rainy to be out. Well, we've been fortunate enough to experience some *great* weather early on in the season! The only down side is that because the weather is so amazing and nice only rarely, everyone is out and about to enjoy it when the sun comes out. One woman told me that if the sun comes out, people put off their house chores, their school work, etc. Anything that must be done indoors is postponed in order to enjoy the lovely weather with a walk through the park, a trip to the Eis (ice cream) store, etc. One man, in particular, enjoys sunbathing in nothing but a speedo in the park. Ah, Germans... :)

My dear husband and I have decided to join this "tradition" (enjoying the sun, not the speedo sunbathing) and found ourselves wandering through a park downtown just the other weekend.

The park was gorgeous! Everything was really starting to bloom, so the trees were lush with leaves, bulbs were starting to show their colours, and the grass was truly vibrant. The sun really highlighted the intense Spring colors that day and the fullness of the trees provided some wonderful shade for us and our fellow park-walkers. 

We had just started crossing a pedestrian bridge over a nearby busy street when we started to hear what could best be described as drunken men singing. Singing in German, of course, so we had no idea what they were saying... but the tune had me picturing several large, drunk men with pints in hand happily singing old bar songs and sloshing the beer around as they swung their glasses to and fro.

We noticed the voices were getting louder, closer.


from out of the park...

...came this:

The Bier Bike.

It was, in fact, happy drunken men singing. And drinking. And pedaling! We watched them until they had to stop at a traffic light before continuing our journey into the park.

We soon came across an area that appeared to be housing several homeless people. Odd, I thought, considering the homeless are the ones who sell extra newspapers all over downtown. But there were tents here and there with little make-shift fences surrounding them. Some tents were in a group, others were stand-alone. There were even a couple of Native-American-looking tee-pees in the mix... which added to the strangeness.

There are a few Native Americans who do musical performances in some of the squares downtown and sell CDs of their work. However, I found it highly unlikely that they would just construct tee-pees in the middle of a park to take up residence. But really, who would?! Unfortunately, that question was never answered.

We did discover the reason for the other tents, though, as we encountered some well-decorated trees.
Stylish tree.

I have no idea what this says.
Decorated tree, a tent, and a tee-pee?!
I don't read German, but I think someone named this tree and gave it a story.

The people of Stuttgart are a wee bit ticked at a recent decision to put the Hauptbahnhof (main train station) underground. They're not opposed to the idea of all the tracks going underground. They're opposed to the idea that the city government has to remove all the trees to do so!

These trees aren't just beautiful and environmentally fabulous. They're also 200 years old. In fact, one of the last kings that this area had gave his people these trees. Perhaps a more symbolic gift than anything, but it has really meant something. The project is called Stuttgart 21. The tents belonged to peaceful protesters.

Jury is still out on the tee-pees...

We continued walking until we happened upon something that would help us with the sad thought of all these beautiful trees being taken away: a Biergarten!

Because when you can't beat a sorrow, drown it!

Tory got a monstrous plate of ribs.

We accidentally ordered some currywurst, which I ate.

Heffeweiss? Yes, please!

Pretty Biergarten.. thingy!

.5L of beer

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Fairy Tale Beginnings

A friend of mine told me that it's completely surreal when you first get to Germany. You fly in to Frankfurt and first, everything is in a foreign language... but everything is still understandable because you're at the airport. They try really hard to make things foreigner-proof. It's when you're driven out of Frankfurt to wherever you're staying that you realize you're over the rainbow.

Everything is so green! Just lush, rolling fields of beautifulness that simply do not compare to the corn fields, tobacco fields, or cotton fields of the states... And then *PoP!* There's a quaint little village! You can tell that the houses aren't like American houses... they're different with their pale walls that lean a little topped with steep, dark roofs. Then you're suddenly back to more vast green beauty. This switch between landscape and adorable Disney village continues for a while until it happens...

You're relaxing into your seat, letting the jet lag set in, getting cozy and thinking to yourself "I live here!" when you see it. Off in the distance, maybe poking out of the trees on a hill, maybe slowly rising on the horizon as you crest the next hill, but there it is... a castle!! The home of great sword battles! Princesses, knights, and kings! With drinking halls and tales of valor encapsulated in stone walls... and I live here!! you think.

At least, that's how it was for my friend. We landed in Stuttgart. Instead of lush, rolling fields of green... we saw the beautiful and symbolic... golden arches! Once we got out of the city we saw tall, skinny trees that you can only imagine were the source of all the creepy forest tales from the Brothers Grimm. We were then promptly greeted by Porsche, Mini Cooper, and Mercedes dealers. Perhaps ours was meant to be a more modern fairy tale adventure...? Oh, well, I though. There will be plenty of castles to see...

And I was right.

The first on my list of adventure was Lichtenstein Castle. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take photographs of the inside.. but there are a few on that website. I was also with a large group and couldn't hear much of the history, but here are some key points I picked up on. I think you'll find it hard to dispute their cultural significance:
  • There's a moat - awesome.
  • The stained glass windows here with incredible detail date back to the 14th century.
  • It was built for a duke, not a king... which explains why it looks kind of small and less majestic than in the movies.
  • The first wife of the guy who lived here died young, which seemed to happen a lot to the first wives of German royalty and noblemen.
  • The guy's second wife gave him a champagne flute as tall as he was as a wedding gift. It was *almost* 2m tall, which was tall for guys back then.
  • People who lived in the time of castles were TINY.
  • Another guy associated with this place turned out to be gay... discovered shortly after he married a young, beautiful woman. This also seemed to happen a lot with German royalty and noblemen.
 So, there's your history lesson for the day! When I go back, I'll gather more information. But on to what you're really looking forward to...



Entrance to main part of the castle. See the bridge? This was moat #2!

Tiny cannon for tiny people.
Cute little town waaaaaaaay down below.

Kind of gives perspective to how high up we were and the steep drop-off one side of the castle was built on.

Two horse garage?

Not sure what that was. It was separate from the rest of the castle.

Looking through the archer's hole.

Most recent addition to the castle.. decades, if not centuries, ago.

Cool planter outside the restaurant there.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Ausfahrts, they're inevitable..

There are some hilarious outcomes to the language barrier that just make you chuckle to yourself. The primary one being "ausfarht". There are ausfahrts everywhere. Why? Because it means 'exit'... which, sadly, kind of adds to the humor. No matter how old you are, five? Fifty? One hundred and fifty? that little giggle just sneaks up on you the first time you say it. It is uncontrollable! It's like when someone says "Asperger's", they either put emphasis on the zzzz sound of the first s or - somewhere in the back of your mind - you end up thinking of a rather unfavorable sounding piece of meat. When someone says "Ausfahrt", you want to ask "Aren't they all?"

Anyway! After I finally got over seeing (and thankfully, not smelling) all sorts of ausfahrts, I came across the above sign. It appears to be a poster for a play or concert or some sort of artsy event. However, not knowing the context and only seeing "Itchy Poopzkid" written on a sign outside of a museum, I came to a natural conclusion: someone has created art featuring a child with a unique defecation problem. Or! some child/character has a really, really unfortunate name. There is always the, perhaps most likely, opportunity that someone merely thought this sounded hilarious (probably because it does). But whatever the creator's reason, the result is the same. I, of course, tried to take the most culturally friendly approach possible (you know, to make us Americans look good): Snap a photo and laugh my aus off!

Ok, I may not have laughed that much... but there wouldn't have been a pun otherwise!

So, next time you're in the room with someone who releases some rather toxic fumes.. try asking them to "please Ausfahrt first" the next time. It'll make someone in the room chuckle, I guarantee. And if your kids repeat it somewhere? Simply explain that you're teaching them a foreign language!

Just felt like sharing with your inner child. :)

Monday, March 21, 2011

A Fest of a Different Season

While it may still be -1* (Celsius) in the mornings, spring is in the air. Beautiful flowers are sprouting by the roadside, the sun is peaking out from behind the clouds more often than not, and - perhaps most importantly - Spring Fest came!

For those of you who are not aware, the Germans do love their "fests". Oktoberfest, as I'm sure you're all aware, is probably the most popular. But there are all sorts of fests! Several involve delicious carbonated beverages that may or may not contain alcohol (let's be fair - they do prefer sparkling water over here), but others are more like flea markets and are meant for shopping. Our little community hosted one such even just this past weekend to celebrate the new season.

Over three days, vendors from all over Europe came to sell their wares. Beautiful hand-carved furniture, artwork, jewelry, shoes, woolly parkas, delicious cheeses from the Netherlands, crystal from Austria, Italian china, Polish pottery, and wine from just about any country you can think of! And if you get a little hungry during your shopping adventure? Hot, authentic German food to help you weather the windchill. We took the first day simply to explore, sample, and note prices. The crowds and narrow walkways made it difficult to snap photos, but here are a few to give you an idea of what it was like:
Italian pottery
Ornately carved furniture - sold quickly!!

Italian wines. Never found out about the cloudy bottles, though.

For lunch on the first day, we sampled the bratwurst. I also learned something! Bratwurst here is red meat, whereas the Rotewurst (same concept) is a white sausage. Both look fabulous, and the bratwurst indeed was. Though sadly, our meal was gone before I even thought snap a photo. Sorry!

The next day we toured Spring Fest, we came prepared. Our first stop was the ATM and we came hungry. First stop was lunch and our first taste of Schnitzel! Our side options were pommes frites (french fries), potato salad (forgot the German word for it), or spinatspatzle (spinach noodles). We had been admiring other peoples' dishes of it, so we chose the spinatspatzle. The meal was, of course, supplemented with beer:
Schnitzel mit Spinatspatzle
I don't think the picture does this meal justice, really. It was not our favorite dish, but it was still quite tasty all the same. The noodles (spatzle) were creamy and cheesy with spinach and mushrooms mixed in. The schnitzel was pork.The beer complemented the ensemble nicely, really. And if you turn your empty beer bottle back in when you're finished? You get $1 back! Yey for recycling!

After filling our bellies, it was off to the vendors to spend our money! We chose to limit ourselves to $100 (including food) based on our window shopping the first day. I advise anyone who finds themselves at one of these markets to set a spending limit! Most vendors only take cash anyway, but I can imagine a credit card hitting its limit quickly if you were to simply swipe for everything you want. Anyway, we had decided we wanted some of the Dutch cheese, French wine, and a few bars of soap from "Bubbles, Oh la la!"

Shopping on the last day of the fest was both a blessing and a curse. While the vendors were happy to cut you a deal to unload just a few more goods, the selection was limited. We did come away with what we were looking for, though:

Wine: a 2003 Bordeaux from the north of France. $26ish
Cheese: a smoked black-pepper gouda, I believe. 500g for $12.50ish
Soap: all-natural, "pur vegetal". We got 6 bars for $20ish in the following scents: eucalyptus, thyme, cotton, mint, and black pepper/opium (weird, right?); plus one aloe vera bar. If you're interested, they have a facebook page.
Earrings: a last-minute decision at the girl scouts' fund raising booth. $5. I had Tory pick them out - he said these looked like a cow-pattern. I agreed :) I was disappointed there were no cookies, though...

Also, please take note of the yellow bag with the mice faces on it in the first picture. The Dutch cheese salesman certainly had a sense of humor (and an eye for marketing) as these were the bags he put the cheese purchases into. I loved it!

All in all, it was a great first fest for us! We know what we'll want more of next year (since this appears to be an annual fest) and will be saving for it in advance. This time, we're just happy to have what we got. :) But if there's any way to end a day properly and spend the last bit of your shopping money, it's by sampling something wonderfully sweet! Like Italian ice cream :) Needless to say.. we skipped dinner that night.

Pfeffermint & Haselnuss

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Willkommen nach Stuttgart!

Yesterday was our first day out on the town! A guide took us around and taught us how to use public transit, taught us a few cultural tidbits, and showed us around the downtown a little bit. While it was totally amazing, it was also totally exhausting! So, when you visit.. bring a good pair of walking shoes!

My husband is picking up German like crazy. He's started correcting my pronunciations and translating things for me and he's had a day of basic German. By basic, I really mean survival German... such as things to not say or do so that you don't horribly upset someone or embarrass yourself and "Check please". An example would be that Germans don't look each other in the eye or smile when they speak to one another. If I were to smile at the bus driver, just trying to be friendly, he'd take it as a sign that I was flirting with him. AHH! I'm fairly certain I'm going to accidentally hit on half the German population...

Anyway, it's kind of spooky how well he's getting this stuff! It's almost as if he was supposed to have been born in Germany and his mind was pre-programmed for it but there was a mix-up at Baby Central and he was issued to an American womb instead. I'm going to be on the lookout for a suspiciously American-like German person... they should really be more careful with these things.
That smug looking young woman there is Frau Krammer (I have no idea if I'm spelling that right). She was our tour guide that day. She is also quite possibly one of the most interesting and hilarious people I've ever met. Almost like a German Betty White! She'll crack a joke when you least expect it and can tell you what East Berlin was like. You know, when it was actually East Berlin. She grew up there.

[That's another German thing, by the way. You're on a last-name basis with everyone until you get to know the and they tell you otherwise. Name tags don't say "Alex" or "Susan", they say "Mrs. Krammer" or "Mr. Claxton". I like it.]

We walked more than the Army, as my parents would appreciate me saying, and saw lots of interesting sites! The best part, of course (since I'm a fatty at heart), was lunch. Frau Krammer had showed us many places to eat along the tour and we got to pick where we ate individually. There was Greek, there was Italian, there was McDonald's... and I realized that it was going to be difficult to get just some basic German food. But! We found a place. With a view, even! And I have no idea what I got... but it was delicious.
My delicious meal. Complete with beer :)
My husband, with his own tasty meal.

After lunch, we all met up in City Hall and rode the elevator. Doesn't sound very exciting, does it? Well, what if I told you that this elevator never stops moving and has no doors? Yeah. Sounds like a death trap, doesn't it?! You just have to hop on and hope you get your timing right. The best part is that you can ride it all the way up and around the loop, taking you into complete darkness with only a giant winding gear for company. ...this sounds like something Stephen King should have written a short story about. And if you're thinking I exaggerated in any way, here's evidence:

So, food and thrilling elevators aside, Stuttgart is a gorgeous little town with a ton of history to it! It has a new castle and an old castle, an opera house (sans phantoms), cobblestone streets, more pedestrians than cars, gardens and ponds, a giant train station, statues of King Wilhem and a century old church next to a Louis Vuitton store. Kid you not. And one interesting thing we learned is that if you see a church and don't know its denomination, look up! If there is a cross atop the steeple, it is Catholic. If there is a rooster, it is Protestant. I don't know if this is true stateside because I've seen those same rooster windmills atop rural Indiana farms... but I found it very interesting!

I look forward to exploring this place more. Until I do, here are some photos for your entertainment! :)
Awesome view of Stuttgart.

Another awesome view.

A third, still quite awesome, view of the city.
Train station! Which kind of gives me the willies...

Our view during lunch. (note the lawn on the roof)

The red building is a 4-story toy store  a.k.a.  Kid's Heaven on Earth!!

Really old, beautiful church.

Part of the "old castle" which is now a museum.

Opera House, across a shallow pond.

"Ich bin ein Berliner!"  (mmm.. donuts..)